The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in federal court against the LENRD with Melissa Temple, a member of the LENRD Board of Directors, as the plaintiff. The University of Nebraska College of Law’s First Amendment Clinic filed the lawsuit on behalf of Temple, according to a release from the clinic.
The lawsuit alleges that a resolution passed by the LENRD that sanctions Temple is in violation of her First Amendment right to free speech. The lawsuit specifically states that the LENRD unlawfully retaliated for free speech, violated the freedom of associating under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, and violated the Nebraska Open Meetings Act.
The LENRD passed the resolution on August 10, removing Temple from all subcommittees and suspending her from being able to get travel reimbursements for travel as part of her elected position.
The LENRD serves multiple counties in northeast Nebraska and has 15 elected directors who serve the board. Temple was elected to the board in November of last year. The lawsuit claims that she felt the behavior of another director, Scott Clausen, was “inconsistent with the LENRD’s Bylaws and Rules of Decorum,” and that his conduct would discourage public comment. Temple then sent a formal complaint to the board’s chairman, Roger Gustafson.
The board later received a public records request from local media regarding complaints and a reporter asked Temple about a statement regarding her complaint, saying in part that she did so in a personal capacity so as to “hold our board to a higher standard of ethics, professionalism and accountability.”
The lawsuit states that Temple was informed that her complaint against Clausen was inconclusive due to conflicting accounts, so no disciplinary actions would be taken. Temple alleges that Chairman Gustafson told her and the press different results of Temple’s complaint. In a June 26 release, Gustafson said he “found no violation of the Code of Decorum.”
Additionally, Clausen had filed a complaint against Temple on June 7, claiming her allegations against him were false and that she defamed him in the press. The lawsuit states that Temple received a letter on July 24 about Clausen’s complaint from Gustafson saying she “’violated the District’s Code of Decorum by failing to serve as a model of leadership and civility’” because the “’decision to share the details of [her] complaint with the public during the course of the investigation, including accusations of misogyny, was in very poor judgment and damaged the reputation of the District.'” As such, the board would recommend sanctions against Temple with a special meeting to take place on August 10.
Temple said the special meeting was scheduled to take place when directors knew she would be out of the country and unable to represent herself. While she had counsel to represent her, the lawsuit said that it “was not an adequate substitute for Temple having an opportunity to attend the meeting and be heard.” As a result of the meeting, the resolution to sanction Temple passed 10-3 with Temple and another director absent. The lawsuits stated that Clausen spoke to the press about the complaint process like Temple did, but he wasn’t reprimanded.
The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and for damages
The First Amendment Clinic said in its release that it is challenging the LENRD’s sanctions as a violation of Temple’s First Amendment right to free speech. The Clinic is also asking the court to suspend the sanctions while the lawsuit is pending.
“The sanctions imposed on Temple by the LENRD are a step too far,” said Daniel Gutman, the director of the First Amendment Clinic at the University of Nebraska College of Law. “The LENRD has punished Director Temple for engaging in protected First Amendment speech and diminished her ability to participate in meaningful policy discussions and decisions. We hope this lawsuit fully restores Director Temple’s rights as a duly elected representative.”
This case is the first case filed by the First Amendment Clinic.